New Hampshire became the sixth state in the nation last week to legalize same-sex marriage, after its legislature agreed to expand religious protections contained within the marriage-equality bill.
Gov. John Lynch (D) signed the marriage-equality legislation less than two hours after the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 198-176 in favor of it June 3; the Senate approved the bill 14-10 earlier in the day, with all Democrats voting for the legislation and all Republicans opposed.
Both the House and Senate approved marriage-equality legislation last month, but Lynch said he would veto the bill if legislators did not amend it to allow for increased religious exemptions. Lynch called for language that would clarify that any religiously affiliated organization, not just churches, would be exempt from participating in a same-sex wedding ceremony.
The Senate approved the amendments May 20, but the next day the House narrowly rejected them, sending the legislation to a joint committee.
Last week the committee agreed to language that further clarifies that religious organizations in the state have “exclusive control over [their] own religious doctrine, policy, teachings and beliefs regarding who may marry within their faith.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said that expanded religious protections in the bill spelled out that same-sex couples want access to civil, not religious, marriage.
“No religious institution will have to recognize any marriage under this law, as the language proposed by Gov. Lynch and agreed to by the legislature made abundantly clear,” he said. “With Gov. Lynch signing legislation passed by the state Senate and House, New Hampshire has become the latest state to recognize that loving, committed couples and their families should receive equality, dignity and respect under the law.”
Lynch said his support of marriage equality stemmed from the many “compelling arguments” he’s heard from same-sex couples that the state’s civil-union law, in effect since 2007, provides for a “separate system [that] is not an equal system.”
“Today, we are standing up for the liberties of same-sex couples by making clear that they will receive the same rights, responsibilities — and respect — under New Hampshire law,” Lynch said in a statement after signing the bill. “Today, we are also standing up for religious liberties. This legislation makes clear that we understand that certain faiths do not recognize same-sex marriage, and it protects them from having to participate in marriage-related activities that violate their fundamental religious principles. With the signing of this legislation today, New Hampshire will have taken every action possible to ensure that all families have equal rights to the extent that is possible under state law.”
In his statement, Lynch also called on the federal government to follow suit and offer same-sex couples federal relationship recognition.
Neil Giuliano, president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, noted that New Hampshire’s action reflects shifting American attitudes in favor of same-sex marriage.
“As people get to know the loving and committed couples at the heart of marriage equality, our culture is moving to equality,” he said.
Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2004 in Massachusetts, and in the past year, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and Maine have also legalized such unions. Same-sex marriage was legal for several months in 2008 in California, before the passage of Proposition 8 last fall.
New Hampshire’s marriage-equality law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2010.